As Heratio took Augustus to visit his uncle, Gillivan stayed up later into the morning than usual to take Marielle to the slave market. The two left in the house in the carriage, travelling in a different direction, they crossed a bridge that spanned over the Typers river. After the bridge, Marielle noticed some of the houses built on stilts with wooden stairs leading up to their front doors. Just from a glance, she could tell they were of poorer construction than the houses she saw before, made of wood, and lacking decorations, they reminded her of the houses of the commoners back in Jorland. She recognized it as a lower-class part of town. The people walking around were dressed in duller clothing, with dirty hair and faces.
As they moved forward, the air changed as the pungent smells of the factories crept up in intensity slowly but surely. Marielle had been warned, and so, put the rag doused in fragrant oils over her nose and mouth and tied it tightly behind her neck. It alleviated some of the potency of the smells that came from the dying factories and the glue makers.
They came to a large gated area and a boy ran up to the carriage to speak with Gillivan, who was on the perch driving. The boy took the leads on the horses and led them inside the gate to an area where other carriages were parked. Gillivan helped Marielle down the steps as the boy waited at the side for a payment. She handed him a few conti and they made their way into the maze of cages that was the slave market.
There were a plethora of cages, each large enough to fit ten or more adult slaves, they separated by gender. Placed in such a way to create corridors you could walk down to view the wares on offer. At one end the slaves were dressed scantily, putting their health and fitness on display. Marielle looked over them, waiting for an employee of the market to come and provide service. She was determined to use the skills Castor had shown her to negotiate a good deal and to pick out a slave that was reasonably priced.
A well-dressed man approached, wearing a vest over a short-sleeve shirt, he had no rag around his clean face. “Greetings young lady,” he said with a smile. “Has anyone seen to your service yet?”
“No,” said Marielle while looking over a cage of women. “Perhaps you could help me, how much do the slaves in this cage usually go for?”
“The prices of slaves vary by the individual. Generally, the more educated they are the more they cost. But there are other factors, beauty is always at a premium, and in the absence of education, physical fitness will command a premium. In the absence of beauty, men will cost more. That girl right there,” the slave salesman said and pointed to a raven-haired beauty. “She would cost about a gilden and ten venti. She has youth, beauty and is very docile, speaks the Venocian dialect of Vanis well, but otherwise can’t read or write, and has no valuable skills.”
“What about that one?” Marielle pointed at a homely looking girl, younger than the one pointed out by the salesman.
“She’s cheaper. No beauty, skinny, still docile, same education as the other one. I could let her go for twenty-five venti.”
“That’s still quite the price, I was expecting a bigger gap between the two.”
“What can I say, they’re both priced to sell. If I could charge more for the pretty one, I would. What’s the role you are trying to fill here?”
“We need help around the house, that’s all. Cooking and cleaning mostly. We already have someone who is trained to supervise, so she wouldn’t need any skills, or be particularly strong. She just needs to be able to follow instructions.”
“Then you’ll want a girl from this cage,” he gestured to the cage they were looking at. “They are sorted first by gender, then by education. As you go further down this row, they get smarted. First, they can read and write, then they can do arithmetic, then they have some skill that’s useful. The truly educated aren’t sold here though. They are dressed up all nice and are brought to the homes of the wealthy to view and talk to before purchasing.”
“That sounds awfully convenient for those of the upper class,” said Marielle. “Although, I don’t spend much time over here, pardon my masked face, I don’t have much coin to spend. My husband is but a factory foreman.”
“No pardon necessary. Most people who visit hear are wearing that. It’s a terrible stench here, but the Senate doesn’t allow slave markets to officially operate across the city. Once you’ve been here long enough though, you get so used to the smell you forget how pungent it is until a strong breeze comes through and suddenly the air smells sweet.”
“That must be nice, to have that sweet smell without having to visit a flowerbed.”
“Quite the opposite, those momentary reminders of where you are can ruin your day.” The salesman chuckled. “So, I’m guessing you want the ugly one then?”
“Yes, we just need a cheap slave. Plain and docile. But I must inspect her before the purchase.”
“My Lady,” whispered Gillivan as the salesman went to the cage door and beckoned the chosen slave to come forward. “You must not underestimate the value of an education. Even simple arithmetic and writing are incredibly useful, it would allow you to send them out for groceries. Or allow you to write them notes giving instructions. Also, it was unsaid, but if she had the talent to learn reading and writing they would have tried to teach her to increase her price. She’s likely a dullard.”
“It’s fine,” said Marielle. “We have Castor and Cressa to handle all that business. We will splurge on someone more capable in time when our coin frees up.”
The salesman finished retrieving the woman from the cage and brought her to meet her potential new owners. “I don’t believe I’ve introduced you to Gillivan, he’s my husband’s friend. I brought him because he knows a thing or two about slaves. Gillivan, please have a look for me.”
Gillivan first scanned her visually. She was skinny, slightly taller than Marielle, and had very curly brown hair. The hair was a mess, an untamable tangle that they both knew needed to just be removed for simplicity. Her skin was brown but looked like it was painted with patchy lighter tones here and there. Her eyes were almost black. On her left arm was the branding that showed she was a slave, a burned-in scar, a star symbol.
“Alright, first let’s make sure you speak our language,” said Gillivan after doing a full walk around the girl. “Walk over to that counter and back.”
She did as instructed. Gillivan watched intently, nodding with each step. When she returned he gave more instructions, “Lift your arm like this.” He brought his arm up to be horizontal with the ground. She copied. “Now raise that hand as high as it can go.” She put the arm up until it was perpendicular to the ground, reaching the highest it could. “You may put that arm down. Do the same with the other arm.”
She followed the instructions each time Gillivan gave them. He got her to squat down, then stand back up. He put something on the ground, then asked her to pick it up, while bending her knees as little as possible.
“She understands my orders, and I saw no winces of pain as she performed the tasks. I doubt she is hiding some injury that would prevent her from doing work. But, I will say buying a slave is like buying a melon. You can knock it listening for a sound, inspect the outside carefully, but you don’t know how it’ll taste until you get home. We can’t tell her work ethic here.”
Marielle stepped forward now to stand directly in front of the slave girl. “What is your name?”
“Back where I came from I was called Bindel,” she said with a heavy accent. The words were difficult, but not impossible, to understand. She had to repeat her name a few times before Marielle nodded.
“Where did you come from?”
Bindel looked to the salesman before she spoke. He nodded. “I am from a small village. There was a river and a large mountain. I do not know the name of the land.”
“Does everything check out?” asked the salesman. “Girl, sit there while we discuss the sale.” He pointed to a chair and Bindel sat in it, keeping her eyes on the ground.
“Yes, she seems healthy, and as you said can speak our language, if barely. The only problem is the price, twenty-five seems too steep for her. She is too skinny, I will need to bear the cost of fattening her up a bit.”
“What price were you thinking?”
“Fifteen venti is reasonable.”
“Reasonable! I’m not gonna sell her at a loss! Make a better offer.”
“Eighteen venti is as high as I can go.”
“Do you know how much trouble it is to get a slave into the city, pleasant, and ready to serve? You gotta go out to near some battlefield and buy them in bulk, three venti a head. Then when you get they are all feisty, especially the women since the soldiers had already had their fill of them. Would cut your throat in an instant. You gotta break ‘em in. Painstaking work, a long process. Then gotta teach them to speak the Vanis language, that only works after they’ve been broken in properly. That whole time, you gotta feed them.”
“You feed them, but you also put them to work right? Have them working in some factory earning you coin. Not exactly a loss. And besides, it looks like she’s hardly been fed.”
“Nineteen. You paid three venti a head, but that includes the pretty slaves and the strong men. You pay an average price and she’s the runt of your purchases. It’s like if you bought a melon and opened it up to see the insides didn’t taste right, and then tried to sell it based on the price you paid for it. It’s ridiculous.”
“Twenty-one venti. That’s as low as I’ll go.”
“Twenty and we are done here.” The salesman sighed and relented. Nodding and going to the counter to get his scale.
After the weighing of coins was complete, the salesman presented Bindel to her new owner. “You will serve your new master well,” he ordered, then waved goodbye to his customers to find new interested buyers.
“Come with us to our carriage, we will ride back to our home,” instructed Marielle and Bindel obediently complied.
Bindel sat with Gillivan on the perch as they rode back. It would be improper to have a newly purchased slave riding in the carriage alone with someone of Marielle’s standing. They crossed over the bridge and Marielle removed the rag from around her face, happy to breathe the clean fresh air again.